The boys of IV of Spades, Blaster Silonga, Zild Benitez, and Badjao de Castro, are stars. This is undisputed. Among their accolades: winning Air Asia’s “Dreams Come True” competition and Best Southeast Asian Act in the MTV Europe Music Awards, performing internationally including Clockenflap 2018, garnering a #1 hit on the Spotify Globaly Chrts with “Mundo,” and becoming a household name among hundreds of thousands of fans across the world.
Fresh off their album release, the boys are poised to embark on a world tour of sorts.
Fresh off their album release, the boys are poised to embark on a world tour of sorts. With tour dates in the U.S., Canada, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi lined up, their 2019 is busy. This marks another important milestone for the band, and the first time for Badjao and Blaster to head to the United States.
Before their tour, the boys are saving all of their energy. They won’t perform in the Philippines anytime soon, save for Malasimbo in March. Time for gigs is replaced with time for promoting their latest and first album, CLAPCLAPCLAP!. The curious album name is their way of saying thank you to their fans.”Why do people clap? Appreciation kasi ‘yung pagpalakpak. Dati walang pumapalakpak noong nagsisimula pa lang kami. Ngayon na may people na nandiyan para sa amin lagi, ngayon gusto namin silang palakpakan sa mga ginagawa nila,” quips Zild.
CLAPCLAPCLAP!, according to band manager and Blaster’s father Allan Silonga, was conceptualized and written in between their performances in the latter parts of 2018. With laptops in hand, the band spent “all of their free time”—in airports, airplanes, and hotel rooms—working on the album. One album, comprised of 15 tracks, done in the span of four months.
When you talk about IV of Spades, it’s hard not to talk about the departure of their rhythm guitarist and former vocalist Unique Salonga, who released a solo album last August. While Blaster and Badjao have considerably lent a hand in the album as compared to band’s previous releases, Unique’s influence is still present; he is credited in “In My Prison.” Both albums have been received positively, but fans of IV of Spades can’t help but compare not only both of the albums but the band before and after his departure.
On midnight releases and vague promotions
The way you guys release your music, it’s intentionally vague, and released at midnight. People spend time trying to figure it out.
Badjao: Noon pa ata ganoon, eh.
Zild: Sa umpisa, parang ang sarap na sila mag-dissect ng bagay-bagay. Fan rin kami, kaya alam namin na para siyang treasure hunting. ‘Yung 12 a.m. namin, dahil siya sa Spotify.
Badjao: ‘Pag sinabi nila na Friday, Thursday ng 11:59 p.m. naka-ready na kami.
Sa amin, nakilala lang kami ng mga tao, pero walang nagbago.
I’d like to think that IV of Spades wants to look mysterious. The same goes with each of you personally. There’s not a lot of context when browsing your social media accounts.
Zild: Sa amin, nakilala lang kami ng mga tao, pero walang nagbago. Mas naging maingat lang kami sa mga aksyon namin. Sa pakikitungo namin sa tao, kahit kilala man yan o hindi, meron pa rin kaming respeto sa kanila.
Badjao: Walang nagbago sa kung paano kami sa private life.
Blaster: Mas filtered lang siguro kami ‘pag may mga ibang tao. Baka ma-culture shock.
Like people have this image of you and that’s not who you really are.
Zild: Parang lahat ng mga tao, ganoon. Normal ‘yun.
Badjao: ‘Yung social responsibility namin lumaki. Kami, as normal people, meron kaming flaws.
Blaster: Kasi pag celebrity, o kilala, nasa pedestal sila tingnan.
Badjao: Kung sino kami na nagsimula—flawed na mga siraulo—ganoon kami. Lumaki social responsibility namin, kaya mas careful kami para sa mga tao na baka ma-offend.
Zild: ‘Di naman super siraulo. Lowkey lang.
Badjao: May good and evil sa loob namin. As with everyone.
While talking about their constant collaborators—Shaira Luna and Two Fold, to name a few—Zild mentions something curious: the idea of “wishful representation” for IV of Spades as a band. Without a doubt, the band’s way of presenting themselves lends much to their fame, and their intention of being seen a certain way isn’t only a matter of branding, but also about communicating a very distinct lifestyle.
So who influences the band? While each member of the band is currently rotating different artists (Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Eraserheads for Blaster, Rex Orange County and UDD for Badjao, and The Beach Boys and Ryan Cayabyab for Zild), they each owe their fashion sense to the greats of decades past: David Bowie and The Beatles, to name a few. Blaster poses that the fashion of iconic artists are justified by their music. “Mga damit namin, parang di ko kaya suotin ‘pag ‘di kami banda. Like they coexist. It’s really a lifestyle.”
Kaya kami siguro ganito kasi ‘di kami takot na magmukhang vulnerable.
Do you three get judged for the way you dress, especially from other men? Do you think it’s a case of toxic masculinity?
Blaster: Hindi rin namin pwede ipilit na tanggapin nila kami. Feeling ko ang tama, do what you want, wear what you want when it comes to fashion.
Badjao: When it’s about toxic masculinity, it’s also about the lack of education and the exposure of what is normal. Na-set na ‘yung trend kung ano ‘yung normal: may muscles, naka fit shirt, eh, you can wear whatever you want.
Zild: ‘Yung pananamit kasi reflection rin siya ng kung paano ka mag-isip. Kung ganun ka mag-isip, meron din silang perception na maglagay ng maskara sa kung ano nararamdaman nila. Kaya kami siguro ganito kasi ‘di kami takot na magmukhang vulnerable. Normal siya sa isang lalaki. ‘Di namin kailangang “magpakalaki.”
Jumping off 2017’s music video releases for “Ilaw Sa Daan,” “Hey Barbara,” and “Where Have You Been, My Disco?,” 2018 was the year the band’s momentum reached full swing. Yet the album, released mid-January this year felt out of rhythm according to comments on social media. While the main references of what makes IV of Spades who they are are still present—the “‘70s-inspired” flashy outfits, the equally flashy visuals, the stage theatrics, the guitar solos, the tinted shades, the eyeshadow—their debut album failed to have the same sense of awe carried by the handful of singles that have brought them to prominence. A day after the album release, some people from social media are quick to declare that they’ve reached their peak, and the band is plateauing. Riding the wave, so to speak.
Kaya ayaw ko ng immediate feedback ng kahit sino. I want myself to understand it myself first. Ayaw ko ng galing sa ibang tao.
“Dangerous din ang immediate feedback ng social media,” Badjao quips. “It messes with the purity ng ginagawa mo. Kaya ayaw ko ng immediate feedback ng kahit sino. I want myself to understand it myself first. Ayaw ko ng galing sa ibang tao.” Zild is quick to add that when it comes to social media, criticism is welcome as long as its thought-out and has factual basis.
But whether it’s positive or negative, the boys enjoy looking at what people think of them. For the many, many letters sent to them by adoring fans, they spend the time earnestly going through each one (“Nakakapanlambot basahin,” according to Zild). They do the same thing when it comes to social media. A habit that the boys of IV of Spades share is that they both routinely look up themselves and the band’s name on social media, which isn’t surprising given their social media presence. They are, to a remarkable but also horrific point, self-aware. They know the clever quips made of them, they know the jokes made at their expense, and, for better or for worse, routinely reference these jokes and insults.
A habit that the boys of IV of Spades share is that they both routinely look up themselves and the band’s name on social media, which isn’t surprising given their social media presence. They are, to a remarkable but also horrific point, self-aware.
After a taping for television, Zild, Blaster, Badjao, and their posse head to Lilac street in Marikina for some wings at their favorite food joint. Badjao grew up around the neighborhood, Blaster lives across town, and Zild lives in nearby-but-not-so-nearby Quezon City, but it seems like they are all in their element. This is where we meet the boys, away from all the glam of the spotlight and right smack in the middle of the places they feel comfortable in. They happily agree to walking up and down the street to take some pictures, and while their loud clothing catches the eye of passersby, they walk, talk, and, if you look hard enough, look like a tight knit of friends enjoying an afternoon stroll. But they are also misfits, who, instead of finding a way to fit in, have paved their own way, while wrestling with the fact that they have emerged as an influential voice for their fans, many of whom are bustling teenagers navigating through their own identities. Their struggles are reflective of the struggles of the youth today.
Which makes their relationship with their fans all the more nuanced and precarious.
What do you feel when your bands compare you to other bands?
Blaster: Noong una, gusto ko sabihin na hindi kami local lang na version ng bands na ‘yun. Pero nung pagtagal, naisip ko na hindi nila sinasabi ‘yun in a bad way. Meron silang appreciation. Hindi lang nila ma-explain.
Zild: Uso kasi sa atin na merong references. Tulad sa Beatles, tawag sa kanila dati, apat na Elvis Presley. Kailangan lang nila ng malapit sa naiintindihan nila para maintindihan nila. Kaya hindi kami naiinis.
What are your thoughts on cancel culture?
Blaster: Feeling ko parang ‘pag paninindigan natin ang cancel culture, i-cancel nalang natin ang buong mundo. Lahat naman nagkakamali. Hanggang nandito tayo, magkakamali at magkakamali tayo.
Badjao: Lahat ng tao may evil, imposibleng wala.
Zild: Sa obserbasyon ko, nagsimula ang cancel culture sa mga taong oppressed. Mayroong mga taong naka-experience ng hindi talaga maganda. Sa akin lang, ang dapat lang ma-cancel ‘yung mga taong nag-aabuso na ng ibang tao.
Sa akin, everybody stands up for something. But if you’re going to weaponize what you believe in, that’s toxic.
What are your thoughts on wokeness? Can it also be toxic?
Badjao: Sa akin, everybody stands up for something. But if you’re going to weaponize what you believe in, that’s toxic. ‘Pag ginamit mo siya to hurt people kaysa i-reconcile kung ano man ‘yung nangyari, ‘yun ang toxic.
Zild: Maganda lang na ma-educate tayo bilang tao. ‘Pag may napapansin tayong mali sa bansa, bring it up. ‘Pag may napapansin kang tama, bring it up rin. Hindi ka lang dapat biased sa mali.
‘Pag may napapansin tayong mali sa bansa, bring it up. ‘Pag may napapansin kang tama, bring it up rin. Hindi ka lang dapat biased sa mali.
I asked this before, and I honestly wasn’t satisfied with your answers, but how do you guys want IV of Spades to be remembered?
Zild: The inspiration to the misfits, to the ones who don’t fit in. We want to tell people that they can be themselves even if they don’t meet the standards of society.
Badjao: Gusto ko, kasama mo kami sa pagtaas at pagbaba ng pinagdadaanan mo. Sa sobrang lungkot mo, kasama mo kami. Sa sobrang saya mo, kasama mo kami.
We don’t make music for perfect people, we make music for people who are imperfect.
You’ve had a busy 2018 and 2019 is looking to be another busy year for all of you. What keeps you going?
Blaster: We don’t make music for perfect people, we make music for people who are imperfect. ‘Yung mga kanta namin minsan tungkol sa kapalpakan namin. Personal experiences namin ‘yung nagpapatuloy. Minsan nakaka-frustrate, pero pag naalala ko ‘kung bakit kami nabuo, game na uli.
Badjao: Kaming isa’t-isa. Sila ‘yung reason ‘kung bakit ako nagpapatuloy.
We don’t make music for perfect people, we make music for people who are imperfect. . .We want our music to breathe within their bones.
Zild: Hindi sa nag-sa-save kami ng tao through our music, more of sinasamahan namin sila. When we see fans, we see people who look up to us. Nakikita namin sa mata nila na may tama kaming ginagawa. Na-i-inspire kami lalo na ipagpatuloy namin. We want our music to breathe within their bones.
IV of Spades is SCOUT’s digital cover for January 2019. #SCOUTxIVOS
Photography by JP Talapian
Creative direction by Renz Mart Reyes and Oliver Emocling
Art direction by Nimu Muallam
Shot on location in Lilac St., Marikina
Special thanks to Allan Silonga and Miguel & Maria